Whether you are in an office, or remote working getting uninterrupted, heads down, time can be very difficult for any manager. There’s too many people wanting your attention, your help, or too nervous to move forward without you. There’s a pressure on most managers to never shut the door, never turn off the ringer, or hold the calls, in order to focus.
What happens if you leave your team alone, and someone needs feedback? Will they stop? Will they do the wrong things and waste time?
The horrors abound.
But you have to take that time. You have to focus, because your focused time is vital for the company to move forward. If you can’t stop and plan out the next month without interruptions, then you will never plan out the next month – and everything you and your team do for the next month will be reactionary.
You’ll be too focused on kicking the ball somewhere, instead of kicking it into the goal and ultimately this will waste far more time than the couple hours you put your head down every week.
Overcoming the fear of being needed
What happens if you aren’t there? That’s the question which plagues most managers — what our teams do is a direct reflection of our management, right? So if we aren’t there, if we aren’t available, then we can’t manage the teams and thus are no longer in control of how we are perceived as managers.
That is scary. I’m not making light of this either — for many it takes a lot to get over this.
But if you can’t get over this fear, then you must always be available, and I doubt many managers want that. This leads us right to the point: you don’t always want to be available, so don’t always be available.
When I first started managing teams, I would respond to emails as fast as I could. I wanted to get answers back, to keep people going. But soon all I did was respond to emails.
So one day I stopped.
Not forever, but for that day. I did anything but respond to emails. Something interesting happened: people with real fires called me, and those were worked out. And the next day, when I went to look at my email, I started responding with: “Is this issue resolved now?”
Almost every email had been resolved in less than 24 hours — often less than an hour. Not by me, but by the people I selected to handle the problems in the first place. It wasn’t that they didn’t need me, it’s that they didn’t need me as much as they, or I, thought they did.
Once you and your team realize that — that’s when you can start making the time in your day to buckle down and focus.
How To Start
1. Schedule the time.
We are all busy, and it might seem impossible to find the time. This is exactly why you have to schedule the time. You can’t rely on things which aren’t on your calendar — so put it on your calendar and treat it as sacred time.
2. Tell Your Team
Even though the time is on your calendar, it’s important to communicate to your team that you are meaning to not be interrupted during that time period. Typically I use the term “heads down” and in letting my team know that, they know not to interrupt me unless it is truly urgent.
No matter how you tell your team, the most important part is the act of telling your team.
3. Emergencies Happen
Yes, they still happen. And that’s totally OK. If an emergency interrupts your time, don’t fret about that. This isn’t about blocking out emergencies, it’s about blocking out the non-emergencies.
4. Stick With It
You need to make this a part of the routine. Not your routine, but the routine for your team. Often you may find that the entire team will start to go heads down at the same time — something which is a really nice productivity boost.
Start with making an hour a week, stick with it and build it up to a few hours each week. It’s an adjustment for you, but also for your team, so best not to rush into it.